“Once upon a time,” I began to my seated group of preschoolers. They sat quietly, focused on the story. No wiggling, poking each other, speaking out of turn, or other behaviors so often seen in preschool “circles”. They were listening. They were listening even more intently than when I would read a book to them. They were intent on the story being told. It was not a new story – The Three Billy Goats Gruff – but they ingested each word as if it were. Was it the familiarity of the story, or the fact that it was being narrated? I am not sure, but apparently the story was powerful.
Our lives are about stories. Some of them we read in books and watch on movies and TV. Some of those stories have a powerful effect on us, changing the way we see things or how we respond to them. Others are less impactive. We tell ourselves stories, too. Sometimes we are aware of our minds rattling on about the story, whether something unusual imagined, or a dream, or a rehash of something that has occurred. These stories affect us. They influence our emotions and inform the way we interpret what we experience. They motivate our reactions. Some of them are more powerful than others.
There is a kind of story we tell ourselves which is even more powerful. This is the kind of story which is a vessel for portraying our deepest beliefs about ourselves, reality and life. Although it seems to be reasonable when apprehended, there is no real intellectual content, as might be in a religious belief or dogma. This story is told not at the level of intellectual perception, but at the level of deep underlying emotion. Sometimes we are not even aware that the story is being told. It inhabits our subconscious mind.
The power of this kind of story is that it shapes our lives. A story about being poor and never quite succeeding to make money can make sure that in our lives we find financial scarcity. A story relating relationship after relationship that melts away can bring forth a life in which we feel essentially alone, unable to make lasting relationships. A story about being a successful manipulator might even evoke the life of a successful con man. Some people who touch these stories identify them as past life experiences that have not yet been let go. Others may recall a forgotten trauma (whether or not that trauma actually happened in their current lifetime) which has shaped the story their unconscious is telling. Such experiences generally take place in a setting of therapy, meditation or spiritual growth program or practice. How, then, would someone not following those exact paths be able to discover what stories they are telling themselves?
One way is to look at how one’s life is unfolding. Yes, other things do affect one’s life, such as the gifts one is given to manifest on earth, the special circumstances or challenges one is given, and the energy of the people and movements around one. However, what one tells oneself about these things strongly affects what one does about them. Assuming one can change one’s life script, such change is not a panacea, but is often an overriding factor.
Here is an example: a man is born who comes to understand much and who has much to communicate. He is also born with a speech impediment. His story could be, “No matter how much I try or what I am given, I have an impediment or impediments which always prevent me from expressing who I am or what I know.” It is quite probable that man will rarely or never be able to communicate well except on a basic level. However, if his story could go something like, “I am strong enough to overcome impediments, and always end up accomplishing what I set out to do,” his life might go quite differently. The Greek orator, Demosthenes, was born with a speech impediment, a strong stutter, yet ended up becoming one of the greatest orators of his time. In most cases, the second man’s life would be more satisfying than the first’s.
We can, then, look at the things in our lives that we seem inexplicably to not be able to overcome. Are we stuck in low end jobs? Do people seem to never listen to what we say? Does it seem impossible to find an equitable loving relationship, romantic or otherwise? Do we have goals that seem impossible to achieve, even though others have achieved them? Do people routinely take advantage of us, or fail to appreciate us? It may be that there is an unconscious story that is creating these negative loops. When there is, that story can take precedence over any outside influence that is brought to bear. It is common enough that when a pauper wins the lottery, there is joy and abundance for awhile, until the abundance vanishes, and the story of financial poverty reasserts itself.
This is not to say that we should engage in bouts of self-blame for creating for ourselves realities that we do not want. Such blame is useless, and even reinforces those results we do not want. However, it may be useful to spend some quiet time meditating, journaling, sketching or otherwise seeking the underlying stories that we are telling ourselves. Once we are aware, it is possible (though not always easy) to change those stories. One can always find a therapist or spiritual teacher. Or, one can try the self-help methods of affirmations, journaling, drawing/painting, music/singing, time in nature or whatever method is most suited to the person one is. The object is to rewrite the negative story whenever one is conscious of its rearing its head, and to act in ways other than a passive acceptance of the status quo. An “unheard” person might find ways of expression (speeches, counseling, writing, e.g.) whether or not s/he is heard. A person of limited financial means might find increasing ways of treating him/herself to niceties that cost some money, or perhaps design creative budgets for projects that help others. A person who feels alone in life might try volunteering or joining groups or even risking one-on-one encounters, at some level behaving as if he or she were not alone. The more levels at which one can rewrite his or her story, the more effective it will be. It is not instant, though. Stories which have been with us for a long time can take time to dissipate or rewrite.
Most of us are aware that our world is in desperate need of positive, life-sustaining changes and a gentler story. Those changes start with us humans who inhabit the earth. They start with those changes which create happier, gentler, more compassionate people to replace the suffering and destruction we too often see. It is to our benefit and the benefit of our earth that we discover the stories which motivate our lives and begin to fine tune them towards the results we want to see. I wish you all the courage and persistence needed to do this.